Stride, a K12 Company is an online education provider that sets itself apart from similar companies by offering traditional school at home. This means that, as in a traditional in-person school, children attend classes for five to six hours a day and engage in independent learning activities as well as on-screen lessons. In addition, a personalized learning approach allows Stride to create an individual learning plan for each student to address their particular educational needs.
Stride’s business has a seasonality element, busier during the lead-up to the back-to-school season. However, during the pandemic many students were unable to attend in-person classes. Stride found themselves facing high demand and also competing in a suddenly much more crowded field. This project needed to help customers see the value of Stride and choose it as the best option for their children’s education.
Stride asked us to take their character, Strider the Fox, who already existed in their online educational games, and transform them into a 3D character. In addition to the request that we use this character to create a brand awareness-building video, they wanted them to serve as a mascot for their brand, who could be used in a variety of environments and campaigns.
Creating a fully fleshed-out 3D character is always a complicated and exciting process, particularly if that character will be composited into footage with human actors. However, Stride brought us two additional challenges: First, they wanted us to utilize existing video clips to create an engaging storyline where the human actors (parents and children) appeared to interact with the character. Secondly, the footage was from a handheld camera, which makes for an additional challenge to try to match a constantly moving vantage point.
To bring a two-dimensional character to life in 3D and allow them to interact with humans, we needed to start with a 3D model of the character. We sent the 2D design to our partners at Origami Dollar, who created a model of Strider in a T-pose, a neutral animation position, so that we could rotate them in 3D. This would allow us to see how the tail and ears connected to the body, the size of the ears relative to the head, and other details that animators would need to work with in order to articulate the character. This was the beginning of our usual several rounds of revisions to ensure that the character had the look we and Stride wanted Strider to have.
While this process was taking place, our team also worked to create the storyline of the awareness-raising video that would be Strider the Fox’s debut. We knew that Stride wanted a short video showing a school day, in which children and their parents would meet Strider and interact with them in a variety of school activities. Since we were using pre-shot footage that was not necessarily intended to tell one cohesive story, we knew we’d have to start there and strategize around this footage. We began by combing through clips to select ones that could be sequenced into a story.
We aggregated the clips to form into the story. Driven by the clips, we created a storyboard showing the different clips, where Strider would appear in them, and what actions they would take. Using this storyboard as a guide, we created the necessary character animations.
We then made a first pass at the process of compositing, or combining digital elements, in this case, inserting Strider into the clips of the parents and children. During the compositing process we troubleshooted lighting and placement of the model. We also viewed the relative size issues that might require additional changes to the initial model of Strider. Would Strider be larger or smaller than the child’s computer? Where was the light coming from in the scene, and how would it have hit Strider if they had really been standing and moving around in the space?
One of the most exciting moments of creating an animation in which a character has dialogue is hearing it for the first time. After writing the script, we had a voice actress (the amazing Linnea Sage) record Strider’s lines and also incidental sounds, called “efforts,” that Strider would make as they interacted in the scene, making them feel more real.
We believe in using fun as a gateway to information. Strider helped get kids’ attention and draw them in so they would want to learn more about Stride’s product. Watching Strider go through the school day, reading or doing a science project, would make children want to participate in the same activities as Strider. And of course, this is only the beginning! We are so excited to see what’s next for our adorable fox.
Duke & Duck